Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Making a Pass

Last year, I read this fantastic book, Traffic. If you drive anywhere every day, you need to read this. It has, actually, made me a better driver, I think. Certainly, if we all adhered to the rules of traffic science it explains, we'd get everywhere faster (and it's not about driving the speed limit... in fact, many of the things we should be doing are counter-intuitive).

Anyhow, one of the points the book makes is "slower is faster." Essentially, what this means is, in most situations, speed does nothing to get you any place faster if you are on roads with any manner of congestion. One of a few things happens when you speed:

-You speed to the next stoplight, nullifying any advantage of speed
-You end up in congestion behind someone not going as fast. This causes you to hit your brake and then the people behind you overreact and slam on theirs. This creates those aggravating backups where you wait and wait and... nothing. No gory accident or anything.
-You inadvertently end up behind the slower people because your assumptions are meaningless in traffic

That last one is what happened today in a beautiful karmic way. I got cut off - from behind - merging onto our beltway here in Charlotte. What I mean is, some fatso in a CRV was behind me on the ramp and merged into the travel lanes before me. This meant I had to slow down and wait to merge. I was not pleased.

The CRV went piling down the road... until the part of 485 where traffic dies every day at rush hour. After days of this, I realized the fastest way through this mess was to, against common wisdom, stay in the middle lane of the highway. Why's this? Well, based on some thing I learned in the traffic book... we get into backups and we tend to move into the "fast" lane on the left. Truth is... that simply adds volume to that lane and clears out the adjacent middle lane.

What this means is despite taking 2 seconds longer to accelerate to 70 on the highway, I passed the fatso in the CRV halfway through the rigmarole. I hope she's still sitting there.

Anyhow, everyone should read this book. Because as aggravating as driving is, it's awesome to "win" by not getting mad and reckless, but by using science against these schmos.


sehyde26 said...

You and the author are both absolutely correct. Trouble is, you're asking Americans to actually stop and THINK about something...so you know how THAT's gonna go.

Calliope said...

I read part of this book. I loved the chapter about merging. This is a big problem with the tunnels here in Pittsburgh. It can go from five lanes to two fast. I've always waited until the last second to merge, or else I'll be sitting in traffic forever. I get flipped the bird and honked at quite a bit :-)